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From left, Everett, Nathan, Vivian and Brenda Rudolph pose with Everett's favorite dairy cow, 304, in 2017. The Rudolph family was one of many Minnesota families to leave the dairy industry in 2019 due to financial challenges. (Submitted photo)

More Minnesota dairy farms fall to the 'axe'

I came across a west Asian fable on social media the other day, "The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the axe. For the axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was wood he was one of them."

The number of dairy farms exiting the industry is heartbreaking. Many of these farm families are not exiting the industry by their own choosing but by an axe. Many of them are feeling like they are being pushed out.

The feelings of being pushed out not by one but by a number of reasons. According to Minnesota Department of Agriculture, in January 2018 there were 3,076 dairy farms in Minnesota. In January 2020, there are 2,601. There were 475 dairy farms that sold their milk cows, their livelihood, their lifestyle, their everything in a two-year period. Their hard work, their hopes, their faith, the many tears all for nothing: gone.

To break these numbers down, the state of Minnesota has lost an average of 20 dairy farms a month in the last two years. Twenty dairy farms a month left the industry. Twenty families every month made difficult decisions in silence across rural Minnesota. Twenty families a month had to figure out, what now? Twenty farms a month have left in silence, fading into the background. Some of those families needed to move away from the life they were building. Many of them had to walk away with nothing left but guilt, shame and the feelings of letting generations before them down. Many of these families are going over and over in their head, what could they have done differently? Where did they go wrong?

There is nothing they could have done differently. When pay price is $13, $14, $15 per hundredweight and cost of production is $17, $18, $19 per hundredweight, no matter how you do the math, you are always short, no matter what. Within my own home of Morrison County, we had 219 dairy farms only two short years ago. Today there are 177 dairy farms in Morrison County. Almost two farms a month left the dairy industry in Morrison County. Our family farm was one of them for the month of September.

How is the landscape of rural Minnesota going to look in the very near future?

We talk about how we want our rural communities to thrive. I ask, are we doing anything to change it? We talk about mental health and what we need to do once we reach a breaking point, but we don't talk about what is causing it: The financial burden dairy farms have been in the last five years. We don't want to talk about where we really are because it is so "Debbie Downer."

I don't see the dairy industry "bouncing back." I see a way of life dying. I see rural communities hurting. I see lost looks on farmers not knowing who they are anymore. I see farmers once proud of the hard work they did and that was enough. Now I see broken and defeated faces.

I wonder what rural Minnesota will look like in the next two years.

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